Government-Appointed Team Presents National AIDS Treatment Plan to South African Health Minister
A special task team on Tuesday presented to South Africa's health minister a plan for a national HIV/AIDS treatment program, including the distribution of antiretroviral drugs through the country's public health system, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/1). The South African government on Aug. 8 called for the Ministry of Health to develop a national program to provide antiretroviral medications to residents with HIV/AIDS, and government officials named a team to help the government and public health leaders develop the plan by the end of September. The team was led by Dr. Anthony Mbewu, executive director for research at South Africa's Medical Research Council, and included experts from the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation. Nono Simelela, chief director of the South African Department of Health's HIV/AIDS program, serves as deputy head of the team (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/25). While drafting the report, the team visited all of the country's nine provinces to assess provincial plans and preparedness (SAPA/AllAfrica.com, 9/30). No details of the report have been or will be released until Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang "go[es] through it thoroughly," Harry Nchunu, a spokesperson for the health ministry, said (Sylvester, AP/Austin American-Statesman, 9/30).
Tshabalala-Msimang, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and Minister in the Office of the Presidency Essop Pahad will study the report before sending it to the cabinet for a final vote, South Africa's Star reports. The cabinet could vote on the plan as early as Wednesday or at a cabinet meeting scheduled for later this month. If the cabinet approves the program, antiretroviral drugs could be dispensed almost immediately in hospitals and clinics where doctors and nurses have already been trained to administer the drugs. Most provinces have said that they have between three and five hospitals or clinics that would be able to provide the drugs during the first phase of the program, which is scheduled to last through April 2004. Some provinces, such as Gauteng and the Western Cape, are aiming to have 15 antiretroviral drug distribution sites (Altenroxel, Star, 10/1). The opposition New National Party called on the government to treat the program as a matter of urgency. "Every day without antiretroviral treatment means loss of more lives," NNP spokesperson on health Dr. Kobus Gous said, adding, "We congratulate the task team for completing its task within the deadline set by the cabinet" (Daily News, 10/1). "We're very encouraged that the report has been handed in and the task team has handed it in on time," Nathan Geffen, spokesperson for the South African treatment advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign, said, adding, "The big challenge now is to ensure financing is available for the rollout; to ensure that clinics and hospitals have the resources they need to implement antiretroviral therapy; and to initiate an extensive public education program" (Star, 10/1).